A little while ago I found myself listening into a heated discussion regarding the pros and cons of eating organic and what that really meant. If the truth be told the two people arguing their points really didn’t have a clue what they were talking about, while the thought of setting them straight crossed my mind I have learnt not to poke my nose in places where it’s not welcomed!
A few weeks later I was drawn into a similar discussion only this time with friends and acquaintances. I was again surprised to learn that while they sounded like they knew what they were talking about, the truth was that they didn’t really have a clue. It got me thinking.
What does organic mean?
Organic comes from the school of thought that healthy food comes from healthy soil. Organic farmers work hard to build up the long-term fertility of their soil, they make use of plant and animal waste recycling this as fertilisers. Seaweed or rock powders are used to balance the ground mineral content, bees are actively encouraged to pollinate crops and crop rotation is used to increase microbial life through minimal ploughing and the use of ground cover-crops.
Organic farmers also create and help to sustain wildlife habitats, utilising these as pest controls. Rather than removing trees and hedgerows they plant more. They create ponds rather than draining them and work to maintain meadows rather than destroying them in a bid to create industrial sized fields. The use of artificial fertilisers, pesticides, growth promoters, antibiotics and feed additives are prohibited.
What are the benefits?
To start with, organic foods are free from genetic modification. This is a major bonus but, to appreciate it, you have to understand what GMO is and what it can do to you. GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organisms, in this case crops which have had their genetic makeup artificially manipulated. Crops are engineered to withstand direct application of herbicides and or produce insecticides. This has both positives and negatives. The positive is that farmers using them have higher yields with less disease or pest damage. The negatives are that these pesticides are designed to kill crop pests, which sadly often sees useful organisms such as ladybirds and bees suffering from the same gait. Many of the chemicals work by poisoning the nervous system in a similar way to military nerve gas. Current testing does not investigate the long-term effects of low dose exposure to these chemicals or the cocktail effect that comes from eating a variety of chemical laden foods.
So, when you choose organic produce you are choosing to avoid the residues of chemicals sprayed onto the crops but also chemicals that are genetically implanted into the plant itself.
Organic foods are also free from irradiation (exposure to radiation in order to kill off harmful bacteria). They have been shown to have higher nutrient content values, are generally more flavoursome and organic farming methods help to maintain soil fertility keeping farmland healthy for years to come.
Justifying the extra cost
On average, organic produce costs 20% more to produce. Farms tend to be smaller, relying on crop diversity and rotation. They often use specialised machinery and have higher labour costs. After harvesting conventional farmers rely on chemicals to control pests and moulds, however organic farmers use cold storage which comes at a higher cost failing to benefit from the economy of scale that conventional farming offers.
Is your organic food really organic?
‘Certified Organic’ is a legally protected certification which is only granted after a rigorous series of inspections from the farm to the shop. This certification is protected by law and it is an offence to market food as organic if it is not certified.
Now you have the basics, is Organic food worth the extra 20%? Well, that’s something that every individual needs to decide for themselves. Remember though, that eating fruit and vegetables is always going to have more positives than negatives than not eating them at all.